Theatre, the Arts & Libraries: The Power of Storytelling

One of the things that strikes me most about working in a library is how much overlap there is between libraries and theatre.

In my MLIS program, there were several of us who came from a career in theatrical tech / stage management and were transitioning into librarianship. As I’ve noted before, theatrical technician-to-librarian is a fairly common path.

The professor who taught my Intro to Library Science class (the ever-delightful Dr. Janice Del Negro) once commented that “librarians tend be a little bit off of center”. Theatre people tend to be a lot off of center, so we feel right at home in libraries.

Theatre is about telling stories—librarianship, at heart, is about sharing stories. Both passions are founded on a love of storytelling, a recognition of the irreducible importance of storytelling in society. Even history, science, math… All forms of human communication and the sharing of knowledge are forms of storytelling.

So when I read this article about the nature of arts and theatre, I couldn’t help but think of how it applies libraries, too.

The Truth About the Arts: Art is Activism by Lisa A. Kramer (posted on her blog on August 25, 2013)

“Whenever there is a violent change of government, one of the first groups to be destroyed will be artists, and one of the first things placed under restrictions is the arts. … The arts express, challenge, question, signify, explain, demand, disturb, ruffle, amaze, astonish…”

Libraries face similar threats whenever political and economic factors are unsure or in transition, and for the same reasons.

Libraries exist to facilitate access to the widest possible range of ideas, perspectives, opinions, and knowledge, without judgment or retribution. By their nature, libraries—public libraries, in particular—pose a similar threat to any power that seeks to quell dissent and disagreement. Knowledge, understanding, curiosity: these things are anathema to mindless obedience.

Knowledge, understanding, curiosity: these things are precisely what libraries encourage and reward. These are the things that fuel great art.

“Art encourages us to look for and express universal truths—the truths that reveal the connections between us all, more than the differences.”

Libraries (again, public libraries, in particular) are based on universal ideals and principles, a belief in the potential of all people to learn, to grow, to improve themselves and their situation, and—most importantly—to understand each other and our various experiences.

The importance of understanding our various stories and experiences is the driving force behind all art.

I find great significance in the ways in which the arts and libraries are essentially similar. It explains why I have such a deep love for both libraries and theatre. It helps explain why theatrical technician-to-librarian is such a common path for people to follow.

It speaks to the fundamental mission that I’ve sought to serve my entire adult life. It’s the same mission my father sought to serve through his career in education.

  • I believe that storytelling in any and all forms is the most important tool we have to understand our world and each other.
  • I believe that knowledge is for everyone, to benefit all of us to the greatest extent possible.
  • I believe that all people can find common ground through an understanding of our various experiences and ideas.
  • I believe that access to the widest possible range of stories, ideas, and knowledge is the most important building block of society.
  • I believe that education, the arts, science, and libraries all serve essential roles in sharing and distributing our stories and our knowledge.

I believe that this is the most important work we have.

One thought on “Theatre, the Arts & Libraries: The Power of Storytelling

  1. Wow, I’m honored to be connected with this post. Here’s a fun fact, while I am not an official librarian, for a while I taught at a college where I was 1) teaching library research and 2) had my office in the library. I, too, am very much at home in libraries and see the power of stories in both places. I would love to do theatre programs in libraries. I actually directed a staged reading of Under Milkwood for Durango Public Library as part of their grand opening celebration a few years ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.